London, 1668. It is two years since the city was devestated by the Great Fire, the inferno caused by a comet passing over the capital. But from the ashes rose the undead, hungry for the flesh of the living. Protecting the populace are zombie hunters like Titus Defoe, a former soldier who now makes it his mission to purge the ghouls.
First off... this book is typical of the sort of graphic novel that sadly most teachers and school librarians wouldn't touch with a barge pole, for fear of being hauled before the Headteacher as a result of parental accusations of filling their precious darling children's minds with violent images. A pity, because this book is bloody marvellous, and just the sort of thing that is guaranteed to get boys interested in reading.
As I said in an earlier post during this my graphic novel themed month, I once had a five year love affair with 2000AD Monthly. This ended as I started teaching, but I had already begun to become a little distracted by the amount of colour that was taking over this glorious publication. For me, part of the magic of 2000AD was the way its artists could portray so much with just black and white and as more and more colour crept in this magic, for me at least, began to fade. I don't think I have bought a copy since then, so imagine my delight when, trawling through blogs and various other sites in search of a little information about 1666, the plague and the Great Fire and I stumbled across this little beauty - a relatively recent 2000AD story, drawn in black and white and now available as a graphic novel (for want of a better term). A few clicks on Amazon and a copy was winging its way to my door and wow..... just what had I been missing out on?!
As the synopsis above suggests, we have a slight re-imagining of history going on here. The Great Fire was not started in Thomas Farriner's modest bakery in Pudding Lane, but instead was caused by a mighty comet. In the aftermath of the fire, the citizens of London were faced with a far more deadly threat - the corpses littering the burnt out streets started coming back to life. Yup..... zombie time! What a great concept. The book is named after its main character Titus Defoe, once a roundhead fighting in Cromwell's army, but now he leads the fight against the undead as the King's Zombie Hunter General of England. He is aided in this fight by a motley crew of 'soldiers', each with their own reasons for fighting, all equipped with various weapons created by none other than Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke and even Leonardo da Vinci. Forget your Victorian era - this is steampunk long befre Queen Victoria came to the throne! They even ride around in a steam-powered vehicle known as the Papin Steam Chariot - "'...self-loading cannons. Tripod puckle machine gun: round bullets for christians, square bullets for zombies. More armour than a da Vinci horseless or a verbiest, and greater acceleration. We call it 'The Reek Reckoner'". Brilliant!
Steampunk is pretty popular at the moment. Zombies too, and Pat Mills has managed to meld the two together prefectly just as Cherie Priest did in her wonderful Boneshaker. This is a non-stop action story written by a master of the craft who has clearly had a great deal of fun in creating this. He has obviously researched the era well, as there are many references to real-life people and the post-plague society they lived in, albeit with a steampunk and "we're waging a war against zombies" twist to it. I don't know how Pat Mills came to be teamed up with artist Leigh Gallagher for this strip but the comic gods were obviously looking kindly on someone that day and I feel that Defoe deserves to be added to the canon of 2000AD greats, up there with the likes of Strontium Dog, Rogue Trooper and Slaine. The stunning images throughout this book are incredibly intricate and rich with detail - so much so that this story would be ruined in colour, it simply doesn't need it and I hope no-one ever decides that it does. I strongy recommend you head over to Leigh Gallagher's blog to find out more about his work -this man is a genius!
I believe this volume covers the first two Defoe stories that appeared in 2000AD (1666 and Brethren of the Night), and that there has since been another story printed in the comic called (deliciously) Queen of the Zombies and a fourth one is planned for the future. If the idea of a comic strip full of the undead being torn apart by steampunk weapons wielded by a ruthless band of zombie hunters appeals to you then you really must go out and buy this now. If on the other hand if you are a school librarian then maybe best to think twice before spending public money as unfortunately there may be a few parents (and traditionalist teachers) out there who might feel the need to log a complaint with the Chair of Governors. (all images in this post taken from Leigh Gallagher's blog)